CHARLOTTE, N.C. — LeBron James scored 31 points, and the Miami Heat completed a first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats with a 109-98 victory Monday night.
James scored 19 points after injuring his thigh in the third quarter. He finished the game 10 of 19 from the field and had nine assists.
Chris Bosh added 17 points and Dwyane Wade battled through foul trouble and finished with 15 as Miami won its 20th consecutive game over Charlotte.
The two-time defending champion NBA champions will await the winner of Brooklyn-Toronto series, which is tied at 2.
Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 29 points.
The Bobcats played without Al Jefferson, their leading scorer and rebounder who has been bothered by a foot injury since the first quarter of Game 1.
The loss signaled the end of an era for the Bobcats. They will become the Hornets next season.
The Heat improved to 16-2 in first-round games since James’ arrival four years ago. This was the second consecutive year the Heat swept their first-round series, taking out Milwaukee in four games last season.
This was also Miami’s ninth consecutive series victory.
Miami began to take control midway through the third quarter shortly after James gave his teammates a scare when he drove to the basket and his right thigh collided with Bismack Biyombo’s knee, sending him to the ground.
James remained on the floor for more than a minute and concerned teammates began gathering around him. He eventually got up and hobbled to the bench and sat down during a timeout, but he stayed in the game.
The injury only seemed to inspire James after fans cheered when he went down.
TRAIL BLAZERS: After a fast start to the season, Portland went through a lull after the All-Star break. Wins became harder to come by, and there was concern the team might have to fight to even make the playoffs.
The team says that experience is helping Portland now in a hard-fought first-round with the Houston Rockets. The Blazers are up 3-1 as the series heads back to Houston for Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Portland got off to a surprising 24-5 start this season, the best record in the NBA at the time, led by All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. But they stumbled with a 4-9 late-season downturn capped by a 95-85 loss at Orlando on March 25. The Blazers regrouped with a five-game winning streak going into the postseason.
“We had a couple of team meetings and got the ship back going in the right direction,” Lillard said.
While Portland now has a distinct advantage in the series with Houston, it hasn’t been easy. Three of the four playoff games have gone to overtime. Sunday night’s 123-120 OT victory by the Blazers was the first win for the home team in the series.
“We’re at our best when our backs are against the wall, have something to prove – whatever phrase you want to use,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We have a determination to us. We know what we have to do, and most times, we do it.”
WIZARDS: Drew Gooden knows what it’s like to play for a team that blew a 3-1 lead, so he won’t breathe easy until the Washington Wizards finish off the Chicago Bulls.
They have a chance to do just that tonight.
Game 5 is in Chicago, and if the Wizards prevail, they’ll move on in the playoffs for just the third time since the 1970s.
Gooden was a rookie with Orlando in 2003 when the Magic went up 3-1 on Detroit, only to drop the next three to the Pistons and bow out in the first round.
“We had a chance to put ‘em down and finish them and we didn’t – and then they started a dynasty in the Eastern Conference for the next five, six years,” Gooden said Monday. “That was something I always looked back at. We could’ve beat that team, being up 3-1, just one (more) game. Who knows? The Pistons would’ve probably never been the Pistons.”
Detroit went on to make the first of six consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals and won the championship in 2004.
GRIZZLIES: Forward Zach Randolph usually imposes his will on opponents with his strong, aggressive play.
Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka have more than met the challenge.
Randolph, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound forward, averaged 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds during the regular season. In the playoffs, he’s up to 18.3 points per game, but he has made just 36 percent of his shots. The Thunder say Perkins’ strength and Ibaka’s athletic ability have been a tough combination for Randolph to handle. The two have switched off on him and mostly defended him straight up, sometimes even switching during a play.
“They’re doing an amazing job,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. “I don’t think they’re getting the credit they deserve.”